Why are we against fun in fashion?

Daisy Chandley explores the problems that surround the fashion industry’s recent disdain for the big, the bright, and the ugly

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There are few things more irritating than smug, feigned confusion, and yet everyone, from the Metro to female-focussed news websites, is exclaiming their bewilderment. The centre of all this fuss: a top. I’m not going to claim that the top is a firm wardrobe favourite of mine, and at £25 it is, perhaps, a little overpriced, but I can’t deny I’m tempted to take the plunge, if only to buy it a drink and congratulate it on all the ridiculous drama it’s caused.

What exactly is the item’s crime? A derogatory slogan? Hand-appliquéd sachets of pig’s blood? No. The top has—strap yourselves in—a big purple ruffle. This ‘scandal’, if we can call it that, is similar to outcries that have spread across the internet in response to other  vaguely weird new items of clothing from high-street stores like the clear plastic-insert mom jeans from Topshop, which spurred the Tab headline: “Look at these ‘clear knee mom jeans’ from Topshop and tell me that God isn’t dead.”

My first reaction to seeing these articles was the same as my first reaction to any source of minor stress in my life: I thought about Meryl Streep’s monologue from The Devil Wears Prada where she chastises her wardrobe-incompetent new assistant for pretending to be entirely above fashion when, in reality, it’s an industry in which everyone plays a part. If journalists think the top is ugly then that’s fair, but certainly not worth the writing of an entire article.

What they are claiming is that it makes no sense, which is flat-out wrong. That top existing at this moment in time makes all the sense in the world. It’s no secret that ruffles are ‘in’—they’ve been trickling down the fashion food chain since approximately SS16—and, despite being wrongly pronounced dead more times than the perpetually sleepy goldfish you had as a child, band and skater tees are managing to cling to some form of ironic-grunge relevance. What’s apparently really bothering and confusing people is that anyone could possibly like the top—after all, it isn’t nude, doesn’t involve tastefully ripped denim, and doesn’t have city names printed on the front in a font that scream “wanderlust”, “go see the world”, and “I’m a trust fund baby”. Of course, shops are still stocking these things, and they’re still selling—nobody would try and deny that—but there’s something about the ruffled monstrosity that represents an attitude to fashion that’s coming up faster than some can handle.

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In 2016, we were warned by one fashion columnist to “beware the frill” and to “be restrained” lest we look like an overenthusiastic toddler, or even a Gone with the Wind character. Instead, the key advice was to keep our fashion neutral—simple bags and cream clothes were in. Only a few sources dared to recommend a bare shoulder, or a bit of clashing print. The change since then hasn’t just been the typical shift from one season to another, but rather a meaningful shift in attitude—we’re being recommended bright and bold colours, frills, and even gingham! The idea of being afraid of coming across “too much” of something, and of practicing mannequin-like restraint in fashion, is being put aside by brands and publications with major voices.

It’s easy to attribute this to runoff from the recent work of Gucci, Prada, and the like,
and it’s undeniable that they’ve played a key role. Alessandro Michele is, without a doubt, uniquely visionary and has injected some serious fun and excitement into recent fashion weeks. However, this change has come from the ground up, as well as from the top down. Polyster Zine, a publication I’ve loved for years and, which seems to gain traction by the day, comes with the tagline: “Have faith in your own bad taste”. Makeup artists who made their name on Instagram such as Bea Sweet and Juliana Horner are changing what’s considered normal when it comes to painting your face, and the two way street of influence between us ‘millenials’ and the runway can be seen in the success of Desigual’s snapchat filter makeup, and the screeching, crash-and-burning failure of Dolce and Gabbana’s ‘influencer’ show.

It’s reasonable to ask what the importance of this all is, as it might seem like the current ‘thing’ is just to dress colourful and wacky, wearing giant purple frills across your body, and, in a year or so, it will be over. However this attitude crucially overlooks the culture surrounding the shift—it isn’t just clothes that are getting more fun, more experimental, and more risky. Unicorn-themed drinks, competitions between eateries to see who can produce the most convoluted crossover food item, and even the holy territory of enchantingly surreal memes all signify a visible cultural movement towards the absurd and the bold in a way that’s broad and far-reaching enough to stick around for a while. In terms of clothes, it’s very possible that the buzz around bright colours will fade and ruffles will fall out of favour. What we’ll be left with, however, is the idea that your bralet-legging-leopard-veil combo might be as unpleasant as a ramen burrito, but that it’s winning in its own way, just by turning heads.

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This change also has major implications concerning the prevalent classism and snobbery within fashion. When the ‘big thing’ is minimalist, beige shapes, which are just meant to make your body look as ‘instaworthy’ as possible, all you want is the best possible version of these simple pieces. In the case of clothes like these, high-end names (which come with high-end prices) really do hold weight, otherwise you’re just wearing ‘normal’ and, let’s face it, boring clothes.

This means that wearing something from Primark (or the like) is often looked down upon. As the unusual becomes usual, however, wearing something from Primark can be a badge of honour—you managed to find something that cool and weird that cheaply? Because, while Primark probably can’t do a better version of a plain Cos shift dress, if it takes an unusual top from any of the big players in high street fashion and adds its own take, with an extra ruffle or a few rainbow tassles, it immediately becomes a completely worthwhile contender.

Anyone looking to channel these ‘go bigger and brighter’ looks won’t feel it necessary to look down at cheaper more attainable alternatives, which not only makes fashion phenomenally more accessible for people from poorer backgrounds, but equally helps to break down this classist snobbery within the fashion world. So, with the attitude of Miranda Priestly, let us shoo the bitter columnists who can’t handle ASOS’s ruff, or the seismic shift of which it’s only playing a microscopic part.

It doesn’t matter if the top’s ugly, and it doesn’t even matter that the band named on it doesn’t exist. Someone out there—one happy person —will be wearing it this week with a pair of bright red latex culottes, or a matchy-matchy lilac skirt, or maybe just a pair of jeans that onto which they’re building up the courage to sew a patch. And they won’t care what the Metro says. And they’ll look fantastic.